9 May

Lachie Remembers

Lachie Stewart

Next Thursday (May 17) runners will come from all over Scotland and further afield to take part in the first event of this year's Polaroid Eyewear 10K road race series at Helensburgh. Each athlete will have their own personal ambitions, whether that be aiming to finish in first place, beating their own personal best time, raising money for charity or simply completing the challenge of a 10k for the first time.

Those at the head of the field will be quick - Tewoldeberhan Mengisteab of Shettleston Harriers won at Helensburgh last year in a time of 30 minutes and 30 seconds - but the man who will be helping to present the prizes after the race at Hermitage Academy next week was pretty quick, too. In fact, he was incredibly quick.

In his prime back in 1970, Lachie Stewart famously won Commonwealth gold for Scotland in the 10,000 metres in a remarkable time of 28 minutes and 11.71 seconds and represented Britain over the same distance two years later at the Munich Olympics.
"I'm delighted to be involved in the Polaroid races," said the 68-year-old Stewart, who was born in Alexandria in West Dunbartonshire and still lives in the area. "They have been going on for over 25 years now and have become something of an institution. Everyone knows about them."

The Polaroid Eyewear 10k series is made up for four races over four weeks - at Helensburgh, Clydebank, Dumbarton and Balloch. So many races in a short space of time would seem too much for many and is a tough challenge for those that take on all four, but Lachie admits he simply couldn't get enough of competitive running.

"I would run every day and I always loved to race," said Stewart, who began his running career at school and only stopped around five years ago due to becoming diabetic. He still looks fit enough to knock out a very useful 10k time. "I trained every day and liked to race every weekend. There were a lot more races around then, and then there were certain events you'd prepare more thoroughly for, but I just liked to run.

"When I worked and lived in Glasgow, every day I would run into work, train at lunchtimes and then run home. Naturally on the way home I would be going at a fair clip and would find myself racing against the buses between stops, or lamposts, or road junctions.The bus drivers liked to challenge me - it would get me in great condition."

The hilly roads around the Vale of Leven also provided perfect training for Lachie, an inductee into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame who went on to coach his son Glen to becoming an international athlete himself, and he still clearly loves the place of his birth and the surrounding area.

However, it was in Edinburgh where he became a national hero 42 years ago. Going into the Commonwealth 10,000 metres Lachie was not expected to challenge for the gold but, as he points out: "I went into the race having run the second-fastest time for the distance in the world that year, so I was pretty sure I was going to get a medal. I just decided that my race strategy would be that whoever made a move to go first, then I would go with them."

The man he chased down was the Australian Ron Clarke, who was the overwhelming favourite. He didn't bank on Lachie's finishing power. "For some reason, no matter how tired I was, I could always push really hard and sprint in the final stages," says Lachie. "I was always confident in my finish."

In front of an ecstatic home crowd at Meadowbank, Clarke was duly outsprinted and Lachie remarkably took over 20 seconds off his personal best to cross the line first. "I was oblivious to the crowd," he admits. "People think that running around a track for so long must be boring but I would keep my mind focussed by checking my lap times and keeping an eye on what was going on in the race. I was always concentrating."

And he was pretty much always winning too. At one stage Lachie won 13 Scottish titles in seven years and broke national records at a vast range of distances. He admits he would love to see this year's London Olympics and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 inspire a new generation of budding athletes.

And he insists the recipe for success is simple. Yes, he may have had a natural talent, but he worked hard too.

"You have to have a certain attitude and mindset," says Stewart, whose young grandson has inherited the sporting gene and is a budding tennis star. "As a coach it was soul-destroying to see talented kids give up on the sport and drift away from it. My son Glen was one of the few from his group who kept it going, kept working hard, and he got the rewards for it. You have to have the enthusiasm for the sport because, essentially, it's hard. It's an endurance sport. I hope these major games though are going to inspire. You see kids out picking up their tennis rackets during Wimbledon or heading to the golf course when the Open is on. I hope the same thing happens for athletics. The trick is to harness that interest and keep people coming back."

There is still time to enter the Polaroid Eyewear Helensburgh 10K and the 10K series. To enter online go to the event website.


  1. George said...

    I remeber this I was 9 ,Lachie you are a hero !